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Updated: 16 hours 37 min ago

GAO: Federal Food-Safety Oversight Needs Better Coordination

20 hours 53 min ago

The federal government could be doing more to achieve the goals of the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and other food-safety efforts, according to a 46-page report published Thursday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The amount of food-safety oversight reported by the federal government varies between the nation’s two major food-safety agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The GAO report suggests that USDA and FDA need to better coordinate on a vision of a federal food-safety culture. That starts with communication.

“Fully addressing crosscutting efforts in individual strategic and performance planning documents is an important first step toward providing a comprehensive picture of federal food safety performance,” the GAO reported stated. “However, individual agencies’ documents do not provide an integrated perspective on federal food safety performance.”

In 2011, GAO recommended that the White House Office of Management and Budget develop a federal performance plan for food safety. Without such a plan, GAO stated that it’s difficult for Congress and regulators to achieve long-term goals on food safety, and food-safety efforts by the federal government aren’t transparent from the public’s perspective.

On Thursday, GAO reiterated that it still believed such a plan was necessary.

FDA and USDA “have mechanisms in place to facilitate interagency coordination on food safety that focus on specific issues, but none provides for broad-based, centralized collaboration,” GAO wrote.

Formerly, the now-dormant Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) performed the service of a centralized food-safety collaborator, which resulted in more federal food-safety accomplishments, the report stated. Bringing back something like the FSWG would connect FDA, USDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a way that fosters collaboration and greater progress on food-safety issues.

“Without a centralized collaborative mechanism on food safety, there is no forum for agencies to reach agreement on a set of broad-based food safety goals and objectives,” the GAO report stated.

GAO produced this report under the authority of the Comptroller General in an effort to help Congress understand its food-safety oversight responsibilities.

Rancho Co-Owner Will Go To Trial Alone, Three Others Make Plea Deals

20 hours 54 min ago

Jury selection will begin July 16, 2015, in the federal criminal conspiracy case involving former Rancho Feeding Corp. co-owner Jesse J. Amaral Jr. The 76-year-old cattle company executive will be tried alone as three others, implicated in the alleged conspiracy to sell for human consumption cattle known to have cancerous eyeballs, have all made deals with the prosecution.

Felix Sandoval Cabrera, 55, the foreman of Rancho’s slaughterhouse at Petaluma, CA, is the latest to reach a plea agreement with the government, entering a single guilty plea to count 7 of the original indictment last Aug. 14 charging him with distribution of adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat.

Earlier, Eugene D. Corda, the 65-year-old Rancho yardman, and 77-year-old Robert Singleton, Rancho’s other co-owner, also entered guilty pleas to the same sole count.

Government prosecutors allege that Rancho processed some cattle exhibiting signs of epithelioma, or lumps or other abnormalities in and around the eye.

That leaves only Amaral going to trial next July. The court-approved plea agreements the other three defendants have with the government are sealed, but it’s likely that all three have agreed to appear at the trial as government witnesses against him.

The prosecution has charged the former Rancho co-owner with 11 federal felony counts. The government will attempt to prove to a jury that the Petaluma resident is guilty of one count of conspiracy to distribute adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat, two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, six counts of distribution of adulterated and misbranded meat, one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and two counts of mail fraud.

If convicted on all counts, Amaral could be sentenced to more than 100 years in jail and fined more than $1.3 million.

Proceedings for all the defendants are being held before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco. He has scheduled a status conference for Singleton on Feb. 18, 2015, and another for Cabrera and Corda on Aug. 12, 2015, which will likely be after the Amaral trial has concluded.

Amaral, Rancho’s president and general manager, was in control of the day-to-day operations at the Petaluma slaughterhouse located 60 miles north of San Francisco. Singleton’s role was to buy cattle and supervise processed beef for distribution.

Cabrera, Rancho’s foreman, was responsible for the staff and the “kill floor,” including being responsible for “knocking cattle,” or stunning them immediately prior to slaughter.

As yardman, Corda was responsible for receiving cattle and moving them to the proper areas for inspection and slaughter.

Singleton bought cattle from both auction houses and individual farmers and ranchers in Northern California and Nevada.

“Some of the purchased cattle exhibited signs of epithelioma, that is lumps or other abnormalities around the eye, and were less expensive than cattle that appeared completely healthy,” according to the indictment.

When cattle with these eye conditions arrived at the Petaluma slaughterhouse, Corda or another Rancho employee would allegedly place them in pen 9A, court documents state. The owners were in charge of determining the order in which cattle were processed for inspection and slaughter.

When instructed, Corda moved cattle into the pen designated for ante-mortem inspection by the USDA veterinarian or Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) personnel. Cattle passing ante-mortem inspection generally went immediately into the kill chute, where they were knocked, slaughtered and inspected again post mortem. After passing the post-mortem inspection, the carcass was tagged and could be sold.

In mid-2012, Amaral is accused of ordering Rancho employees to process cattle that were condemned by the USDA veterinarian. At his instruction, Cabrera allegedly had workers cut the “USDA Condemned” stamps out of the cattle carcasses so they could be processed for sale and distribution.

At about the same time, prosecutors say Amaral gave the foreman, Cabrera, and the yardman, Corda, directions on how to circumvent inspection procedures for cows with cancerous eyes. Both Amaral and Singleton allegedly told their employees to swap out uninspected cows with cancerous eyes with cattle that had already passed ante-mortem inspection.

“Cabrera knocked the cancer eye cows, and he or another kill floor employee at his instruction slaughtered them and deposited their heads in the gut bin,” the indictment states. “Cabrera, or another kill floor employee at his instruction, placed heads from apparently healthy cows, which had been previously reserved, next to the cancer eye cow carcasses.

“The switch and slaughter of un-inspected cancer eye cows occurred during the inspectors’ lunch breaks, at a time during which plant operations were supposed to cease,” the charging documents continue. “When the inspectors returned from lunch for post mortem inspections, they were unaware that the carcasses they were inspecting belonged to cancer eye cows that had escaped ante mortem inspection.”

Based on Rancho’s records, the government found that, from January 2013 to January 2014, beef from 101 head of condemned cattle and 79 cows with eye cancer was processed for human consumption. For every diseased animal that he got past USDA inspectors, Cabrera allegedly got a $50 bonus.

In early 2014, with the federal investigation underway, Rancho recalled all of its beef production going back the previous year, or about 8.7 million pounds. It also was forced to close down and ultimately sell the Petaluma slaughterhouse. The facility has since resumed operations under new ownership.

Part 2: Are Raw Sprouts Safe?

20 hours 54 min ago

(This article, focused on growers, is by Julia Darnton and Phillip Tocco of Michigan State University Extension. It was originally posted here on Dec. 16, 2014, and is reposted with permission. Part 1, focused on consumers, can be found here.)

In 2011, an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis was linked to alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts in the United States. This was right after an outbreak of European E. coli O104 in Germany, which sickened thousands and was linked to 50 deaths.

Recalls of sprouts as a result of Listeria created yet more concern in the U.S. Each of these outbreaks was linked to a different harmful bacteria that are feared in foodborne illnesses.

Since that time, many restaurants have taken sprouts off their menu, including the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s. Sprouts still appear at some farmers markets and are desired for adding flavor to salads, juices or entrées, both by professional chefs and home cooks.

What causes sprouts to be dangerous? How can sprouts be safely grown?

Bacteria that cause foodborne illness can lurk anywhere there is a host for them to thrive. In sprouts, the seed can, and does, carry the foodborne illness pathogen. Seed has been documented to carry foodborne illness from the field of origin, as well as becoming infected through rodent contact.

Foods that need special attention to avoid consumers getting sick  are categorized as “potentially hazardous foods,” or PHFs. Raw sprouts are listed among other foods that are categorized as PHFs, as are meats, cheeses, cut melons, cut tomatoes and cut leafy greens. The University of California at Davis advises that, “The best conditions for sprouting are also ideal for multiplication of pathogenic bacteria if they happen to be present on the seed.” So seeds are sprouting in the ideal conditions for bacteria to grow, and sprouts are a documented host for many different bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an official guidance in 1999 on the topic of sprouts because of the potential harm: “All parties involved in the production of sprouts — seed producers, seed conditioners, and distributors, and sprout producers — should be aware that seeds and sprouted seeds have been recognized as an important cause of foodborne illness.” The guidance recommends that seeds be produced using Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and that seeds are “conditioned, stored, and transported in a manner that minimizes the likelihood that the seeds will be contaminated with pathogens.” (FDA, 1999)

For the potential grower, check to make sure that the company you source seeds from is following these guidelines and has a food-safety plan and that it is part of your own farm’s food-safety plan.

Growers of sprouts should be aware of the regulations governing food production, and sprout production specifically, and work to reduce contamination by having a HACCP plan and using “good sanitation practices as a standard operating procedure to maintain control throughout all stages of sprout production.”

Good sanitation means that storage facilities are routinely monitored for rodent activity and rodent urine on all seed bags, seed batches are routinely tested for incidence of Salmonella and E. coli prior to sprouting, seed has been sanitized prior to sprouting, spent water has been tested to ensure zero Salmonella species and E. coli, health and hygiene controls are in place for workers at all stages, dedicated tools are in place for safely harvesting sprouts that are sanitized between uses, and the temperature of sprouts after harvest is dropped as quickly as possible to 34 degrees F and maintained until delivery to the end user.

The International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA) represents growers of sprouts and is working with regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to address food-safety concerns. The group has created third-party audits specifically for sprout growers.

The Sprout Safety Alliance has generated a set of best practices for safe production of sprouts. Their recommendations begin with creating a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, or HACCP Plan, for your operation which addresses seed receiving, seed disinfection, testing spent irrigation water for bacteria before sprouts are harvested, and storage and distribution at the proper refrigeration temperature.

Safe food and water are a concern for all people, and Michigan State University Extension has resources to help. From growing to marketing to consuming food, MSU Extension experts can answer your food-safety questions.

Walmart Working on New Safety Protocols for Poultry Suppliers

20 hours 55 min ago

Walmart and Sam’s Club are apparently leaving it to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to talk about the actual food-safety problem the corporation is now out to solve.

On Thursday, the giant Arkansas-based retailer issued a statement about “enhanced poultry safety measures” it plans to implement.

“The new guidelines are in addition to Walmart’s food safety program that requires poultry suppliers to achieve prevention-based certification against one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) internationally recognized standards,” Walmart’s statement read.

But what food-safety problem is the company trying to address?

The new initiative took on some clarity with statements from Dr. Chris Braden, who heads up CDC’s unit that includes food and waterborne diseases. He said CDC and Walmart are working together to reduce Salmonella and “other pathogen contamination” in poultry as it’s sold at the retail level.

Survey research projects of raw chicken purchased at retail have shown high levels of contamination for both Salmonella and Campylobacter in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Such high levels mean that people handling and cooking raw chicken must use extra care to avoid cross-contamination and cook it thoroughly to achieve proper internal temperatures.

Braden said the CDC/Walmart project is a “public-private” partnership “that benefits everything.” The enhanced safety measures will fall on Walmart’s poultry suppliers, who will have until June 2016 to comply.

Walmart did not respond to a Food Safety News request for a copy of the new protocols. The company said the protocols have been “vetted” by numerous stakeholders, including the academic community, regulators, and consumer groups, in addition to poultry suppliers.

“Walmart’s implementation of enhanced safety measures for poultry products provides leadership for the food industry and continues a progressive approach to providing the safest possible food,” said Dr. Gary Acuff, director of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, and who has apparently been part of the vetting. He said the new protocols are “a smart, science-supported move that will greatly benefit consumers.”

The goal of the new “farm-to-fork” controls is to reduce pathogen contamination, including on “chicken parts.”

Caramel Apples Linked to Multi-State Listeria Outbreak

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 11:45pm

The Minnesota Departments of Health and Agriculture are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a multi-state outbreak of Listeriosis linked to eating caramel apples.

Four people in Minnesota have become ill as part of this outbreak. All were hospitalized, and two died. All were adults ages 59 to 90 years. They became ill in late October and November.

Health officials are warning consumers who may have purchased any pre-packaged, commercially produced caramel apples, including caramel apples with other toppings such as nuts, chocolate, and sprinkles, to not eat them until more information from the investigation becomes available.

The Minnesota cases purchased caramel apples from Cub Foods, Kwik Trip, and Mike’s Discount Foods, which carried Carnival brand and Kitchen Cravings brand caramel apples. These two brands are no longer available for purchase at retail locations; however, health officials are concerned that persons who purchased them may still have them in their homes.

The investigation is evolving, and other caramel apple brands and locations may also be impacted. Minnesota officials are working with national partners to determine the scope of products impacted. Consumers should not eat any brands of commercially produced pre-packaged caramel apples until additional information is available. At this time, no illnesses related to this outbreak have been linked to apples that are not caramel-coated and not pre-packaged.

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The disease affects primarily older adults, pregnant women, newborns, and persons with weakened immune systems. On average, seven cases of Listeriosis are reported in Minnesota each year.

Symptoms of Listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions. Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness; however, infections during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery, or infection of the newborn. Symptoms begin from three to 70 days after consuming the bacteria.

Anyone who believes they may have become ill with Listeriosis should contact their health care provider.

Videos Reveal 5 Common Food-Safety Mistakes

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 1:03am

A team led by Christine Bruhn, Ph.D., food-safety expert and Institute of Food Technologists spokesperson, recently videotaped 120 consumers as they prepared a chicken and a salad in their homes.

They found that, while many felt confident about their food safety skills, many were making critical mistakes while preparing their meals that could lead to foodborne illness. Here are their easily correctable five kitchen mistakes:

Kitchen Mistake No. 1: Not Washing Hands
One of the first mistakes Bruhn and her team noted was that the participants forgot to wash their hands before starting to prepare their meal. Hands should be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and dried with a paper towel, not a cloth towel. This is because the cloth towel can become contaminated and then spread bacteria when used to dry dishes, wipe counters, etc.

Kitchen Mistake No. 2: Washing Chicken
The study showed that participants often washed their chicken before seasoning and cooking, which is not the correct way to prepare it. When raw chicken is placed under running water, some of the bacteria that could be on the surface of it ends up in the sink (where dishes are washed), and it can splatter as much as two feet around, contaminating surfaces with dangerous salmonella or other bad bugs.

Kitchen Mistake No. 3: Not Using a Thermometer to Test Doneness
Another mistake that participants made was not cooking the chicken to the proper temperature because they were using their eyes instead of a thermometer to see if it was done. It’s not enough just to look and see if the chicken is white inside and there are no pink juices. A thermometer needs to be used to make sure the chicken is cooked to at least 165 degrees F.

Kitchen Mistake No. 4: Improper Refrigerator Temperature
Bruhn and her team found that when they took the temperature of the participants’ refrigerators, one was as high as 60 degrees F, and almost 15 percent were about 45 degrees F, which is too warm. The refrigerator should register at 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees F. Since few refrigerator controls show actual temperatures, using an inexpensive freestanding appliance thermometer will allow you to monitor the temperature and adjust the setting of the refrigerator and/or freezer if necessary. Buy one for the fridge, one for the freezer, and check them often.

Kitchen Mistake No. 5: Rewashing Bagged, Pre-Washed Lettuce
Pre-washed bagged lettuce does not need to be rinsed or rewashed a second time. There’s a risk that you’ll end up adding bacteria to greens that were perfectly clean to start with if the sink or cutting board is not newly cleaned and sanitized. Just open the bag and dump it into a bowl. Any bacteria that could be eliminated by washing has come off.

Part 1: Are Raw Sprouts Safe?

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 1:02am

(This article, focused on consumers, is by Julia Darnton and Phillip Tocco of Michigan State University Extension. It was originally posted here on Dec. 16, 2014, and is reposted with permission. Part 2, focused on growers, will appear tomorrow.)

In 2011, an outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis was linked to alfalfa sprouts and spicy sprouts in the United States. This was right after an outbreak of European E. coli O104 in Germany, which sickened thousands and was linked to 50 deaths.

Recalls of sprouts as a result of Listeria created yet more concern in the U.S. Each of these outbreaks was linked to a different harmful bacteria feared in foodborne illnesses. Since that time, many restaurants have taken sprouts off the menu, including the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s. Sprouts still appear at some farmers markets and are desired for adding flavor to salads, juices or entrées, both by professional chefs and home cooks.

What causes sprouts to be dangerous? How can sprouts be safely consumed?

Bacteria that cause foodborne illness can lurk anywhere there is a host for them to thrive. In sprouts, the seed can, and does, carry the foodborne illness pathogen. This is why we have to take advisories such as “Refrigerate after opening” very seriously and do our best to minimize the sources of foodborne illness in our own homes. Michigan State University Extension has a team of educators dedicated to helping consumers understand the risk and hazards of foodborne illness.

The common hosts for foodborne illness are categorized as “potentially hazardous foods” or PHFs. Raw sprouts are listed among other foods that are categorized as PHFs such as meats, dairy products, cut melons, cut tomatoes and cut leafy greens. PHFs must be kept colder than 41 degrees F or must be kept above 135 F (please note this is holding time, not cooking temperature, which varies based on the food type).

The University of California at Davis advises that, “The best conditions for sprouting are also ideal for multiplication of pathogenic bacteria if they happen to be present on the seed.” So seeds are sprouting in the ideal conditions for bacteria to grow and sprouts are a documented host for many different bacteria that cause foodborne illness. This is why raw sprouts are potentially hazardous foods.

The designation of PHF does not mean that people shouldn’t eat these foods or shouldn’t purchase these foods. Much like ordering a steak or an egg in any other way but fully cooked, eating raw sprouts means you run the risk of contracting a foodborne illness when you eat it. In healthy individuals, these foodborne illnesses are nothing more than a day or two of nausea or diarrhea. For those who would be considered highly susceptible or vulnerable to foodborne illness, including young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, it could mean long-term health issues such as severe rheumatoid arthritis, miscarriage, kidney failure or death.

Instead, the designation of PHF means that these foods need to be carefully prepared and stored at the proper temperature, and, if not handled correctly, discarded without being consumed. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) enforces the Michigan Food Code, which lists raw sprouts as a potentially hazardous food and requires time and temperature control for food safety. This means the storage and holding of this product must be closely monitored. The time/temperature control for safety for raw sprouts is 41 F (5 degrees Celsius).

Merger of Two Meat Industry Associations Takes Effect Jan. 1

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 1:01am

The new North American Meat Institute (NAMI) will be born right on schedule come New Year’s Day.

NAMI is the product of the merger of the 108-year-old American Meat Institute (AMI) and the North American Meat Association (NAMA), with origins dating back to 1942. The merger combines into one the two large meat industry organizations that have been that sector’s impact players on all issues, including food safety.

AMI, for example, initially sued in federal court to prevent E. coli O157:H7 from being listed as an adulterant in meat when the issue first arose 20 years ago. More recently, NAMA has gained attention for its annual hands-on training sessions in methods that have successfully controlled the deadly pathogen.

The two organizations announced the merger earlier this year after negotiations in 2013 were able to prepare both boards of directors for unanimous merger votes in 2014.

The new North American Meat Institute has also began to make staffing announcements. NAMA’s Barry Carpenter, a former top USDA official, will be the new group’s president and chief executive officer. He’s held the same job at NAMA.

That Carpenter will head up the new organization comes as no surprise. Merger talks with NAMA were one of the last duties of AMI’s J. Patrick Boyle, who retired a year ago after serving the organization for 24 years as president and CEO.

In one of his first major personnel decisions for NAMI, Carpenter named Pete Thomson as vice president of legislative affairs. Thomson will join the new staff on Jan. 5, ending 31 years of Congressional experience. He will depart as the senior advisor for livestock issues to the House Agriculture Committee.

While on the committee staff, he counseled five chairmen and interacted with the entire spectrum of producers, packers, processors, retailers and consumers. Thomson came to Congress in 1983 with Rep. Bob Smith, but soon left the Oregon Republican’s staff for the House committee.

Thompson has worked on six different farm bills and has been actively engaged in a wide array of key issues, including industry marketing and structure, country-of-origin labeling (COOL), regulatory issues associated with GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration), foreign market access and animal identification.

“Pete Thomson’s experience on the Hill and his deep understanding of agriculture and livestock issues in particular will be invaluable to NAMI members,” Carpenter said. “We are fortunate to have his leadership on our team at this important time in our Institute’s history.”

Since announcing that their respective boards had voted for the merger, the two organizations have been careful to be on the same page. They reacted to the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) decision against U.S. policy on COOL with a joint statement in which they said the decision was no surprise.

“USDA’s mandatory COOL rule is not only onerous and burdensome on livestock producers and meat packers and processors, it does not bring the U.S. into compliance with its WTO obligations,” the two organizations stated. “By being out of compliance, the U.S. is subject to retaliation from Canada and Mexico that could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.”

The U.S. is now in the early stages of an appeal of that ruling, but the chances aren’t good that it will prevail after three previous WTO losses on the issue. Losing again would mean Canada and Mexico could get the green light for imposing tariffs on American exports on all sorts of things to make up for the losses in the meat trade.

That could give the new NAMI an opening to reduce or repeal the COOL law. In their earlier joint statement, the two groups said it was time to restore relationships with two of America’s largest and most important trading partners.

Meat packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers have joined AMI to protect their interests. AMI’s members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S.

NAMA’s 600 members throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are involved in meat and poultry packing and processing. Both groups, now merging into one, provide a raft of legislative, regulatory, technical, scientific and education services.

AMI was founded in Chicago in 1906 just after the Federal Meat Inspection Act was passed by Congress. Its original name was the American Meat Packers Association and its first task was to help its 300 members comply with the new federal law.

AMI is probably the main reason taxpayers — rather than the industry and its consumers — pay the $1 billion the federal government spends annually on meat inspection today.

In 1919, the name was changed to the Institute of American Meat Packers and finally AMI in 1940. AMI moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C., in 1979. It merged with the National Independent Meat Packers Association (NIMPA) in 1982 and began managing the U.S. Hide, Skin and Leather Association in 1990. In 1991, AMI changed its bylaws to allow poultry processors to become full members, and, in 1992, the AMI Foundation was established to focus on research, education and information of interest to the meat and poultry industry.

In 1999, the AMI Foundation launched a multi-million-dollar, multi-year food safety initiative with the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminated Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli 0157:H7 from meat and poultry products.

The North American Meat Association was created by the 2012 merger of the North American Meat Processors Association (NAMPA) and the National Meat Association (NMA). Here’s the way the groups explained their lineage in the run-up to that merger:

 ”In 1942, shortly after the American entrance into WWII, the government imposed price controls and rationing of meat products without recognizing the special value-added service purveyors give to their customers. In response, Chicago, Illinois-based institutional meat purveyors banded together as the National Association of Hotel and Restaurant Meat Purveyors.

“As a result of this organization’s efforts, the regulation was amended and all sellers of meat products to hotels and restaurants were permitted to sell their products at a fair price. The association changed its name to the National Association of Meat Purveyors and began serving the needs of its members. In March 1996, the association changed its name to North American Meat Processors Association to reflect that it had begun to serve members in Canada, Mexico, and other countries. NAMP was unique among meat industry trade associations in having a North American focus in its programs and services.”

The National Meat Association had a similarly transformative history. Its first predecessor organization, Western States Meat Packers Association, was formed in 1946. Two years later, its second, Pacific Coast Meat Association, was chartered. These two would join together in 1982 to become the Western States Meat Association. Finally, in 1995, out of a merger of WSMA with the Mountain/Plains Meat Association, the National Meat Association was formed.

CA Company Recalls Cheese Products for Potential Listeria Contamination

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 12:31am

Bleating Heart Cheese of Tomales, West Marin County, CA, announced Wednesday that it is conducting a voluntary recall of a few of its sheep milk and cow’s milk cheese produced in late May, late June and early July based on sampling by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) that found the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in at least one sample of the following cheeses:

  • “Ewelicious Blue” – natural rind, aged 2-3 months, identifying code 14-0618 on the bottom side of the label
  • “Fat Bottom Girl” – natural rind, aged 2-3 months, identifying code 14-0702 on the bottom side of the label
  • “Goldette Tommette” – natural rind, aged 2-3 months, identifying code 14-0527 on the bottom side of the label

At this time, no illnesses have been reported, but to reduce possible health risks and ensure that all suspect product is removed from the marketplace, Bleating Heart Cheese is initiating this voluntary recall in cooperation with the California Departments of Food & Agriculture and Public Health.

These specific cheeses and lot numbers were distributed or sold beginning on October 2014 to distributors servicing the San Francisco Bay-area retail food shops, restaurants and stores. Anyone who has distributed the cheese identified above needs to immediately notify their customers of the voluntary recall and instruct them to return any affected cheese to the distributor for a full refund. The cost of the returned cheese will be covered by Bleating Heart Cheese, upon proof of purchase.

Any of the above cheese still in a distributor’s inventory needs to isolated/quarantined and prepared for return to Bleating Heart Cheese, which will provide a full refund upon receipt of the cheese and verification of its identity.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, pregnant women and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and fetal infection among pregnant women.The recall is being conducted with the knowledge of FDA.

If you have any questions or seek additional information, please call (858) 472-1754 during the company’s normal hours of operations (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PST) or email

Parents of E. Coli Victim Sue Whole Foods

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 5:31pm

The parents of Joshua Kaye are suing Whole Foods Market over their son’s death.

Eight-year-old Joshua from Braintree, MA, died last summer from an E. coli 0157:H7 infection that turned into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Multiple people were sickened, and epidemiological evidence traced the source to grass-fed ground beef back to Whole Foods.

“Federal agents were in Whole Foods as early as June 26 investigating the cluster, far before my son was identified as sick,” Andrew Kaye told NECN. “It would not be until later that DNA samples would definitely link Josh to these cases.”

The Kayes said they were told there would be a recall, but Whole Foods didn’t issue one until Aug. 15.

“We have a letter from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that talks about Whole Foods grasping at straws, and dragging their feet, and emergency overnight meetings being convened,” Kaye said. “Their delay tactics led to the recall not happening for fifty days after the problem was identified and linked to their stores. We foolishly did not go to the media, or hire an attorney at that time because we trusted the system to work.”

Whole Foods issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit: “Whole Foods Market joins the community in expressing our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to Joshua Kaye’s family for their tragic loss. We cannot comment specifically on the facts of this pending litigation, but our thorough and ongoing investigation of the circumstances has not shown any clear link to our business. The safety of our customers is a top priority at Whole Foods Market, and always will be.”

The Kayes have also filed a lawsuit against Missouri-based Rain Crow Ranch, the company that allegedly produced and processed the contaminated meat.

The Kayes are represented by William Marler.  Marler underwrites Food Safety News.

CDC Update: 111 Sickened in Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Bean Sprouts

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 12:14pm

At least 111 people in 12 states have been confirmed infected with Salmonella in an outbreak linked to bean sprouts produced by Wonton Foods, Inc., according to an outbreak update posted Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Twenty-six percent of patients have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Since the CDC’s last update on Dec. 4, 24 new illnesses have been found.

Wonton Foods continues to cooperate with state and federal public health officials. On Nov. 21, they agreed to destroy any remaining bean sprout products while conducting a thorough cleaning and sanitization of their facilities..

On Nov. 24, the company completed the sanitization process and resumed production. Shipments resumed on Nov. 29.

CDC says it is not likely that any more contaminated product is on store shelves.

CDC recommends that children, the elderly, pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind due to their potential to harbor harmful bacteria. Cooking sprouts kills any such bacteria.

Caffeine Powder Concerns FDA, Energy Drinks Concern Denmark

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:04am

Last week, the parents of two young men who died earlier this year after ingesting caffeine powder met with Food and Drug Administration officials to deliver a citizen petition urging the agency to ban the sale of powdered caffeine.

In a blog about the meeting, Michael Landa, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, wrote that the agency shares the hopes of Katie and Dennis Stiner and Julie and James Sweatt that other families will be spared such a loss.

Landa noted the consumer advisory about the dangers of pure, powdered caffeine that FDA published in the summer, adding that “We are working right now on our next steps.”

But for now, “I cannot say strongly enough how important it is to avoid using powdered pure caffeine,” Landa wrote. “The people most drawn to it are our children, teenagers, and young adults, especially students who want to work longer to study, athletes who want to improve their performance, and others who want to lose weight.”

The U.S. isn’t the country worried about young people’s caffeine consumption. In research published this week, the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark observed that many children and teens get too much caffeine from energy drinks.

The study found that when children aged 10-14 have energy drinks, one in five consumes too much caffeine. When their caffeine intake from other sources such as cola and chocolate is included, every second child and more than one in three adolescents aged 15-17 consumes too much caffeine.

The Institute estimates that energy drinks cause or contribute to a large proportion of children and adolescents exceeding the recommended maximum daily intake of caffeine. Children and young people can quickly exceed the maximum intake recommendation of 2.5 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight per day — even if they have a moderate consumption of energy drinks.

High intake of caffeine can cause side effects such as insomnia, restlessness, heart palpitations, irritability, nervousness and anxiety.

Echoing what concerns consumer advocates in the U.S., many Danish children and their parents are not aware of the ingredients in energy drinks, the side effects of drinking them, or the recommendation that children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should not drink them.

“It seems as if there has been a change in the perception of the types of drinks that people consider normal to drink,” said Jeppe Matthiessen, the study’s senior adviser. “Among younger consumers, energy drinks now have the same status as soft drinks had previously. Both the use of, and attitudes toward, energy drinks give us reason to be concerned that the intake will increase in the coming years, and we therefore suggest that more information will be made available about energy drinks aimed at children and adolescents as well as their parents.”

Food-Safety Advocates Applaud Increased FSMA, NARMS Funding

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:03am

Food-safety advocates were pleased to see increased funding for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria (NARMS) in the $1.1-trillion spending bill President Barack Obama signed on Tuesday.

The bill provides almost $2.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Food and Drug Administration, including $903 million for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and $147 million for the Center for Veterinary Medicine.

This includes an increase of $27.5 million over 2014 enacted funding levels for food safety activities, which is at least $2.5 million more than the House and Senate had added in their original agriculture appropriations for fiscal year 2015.

“We’re very pleased,” said Sandra Eskin, director of food safety at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

With the first FSMA rules to be finalized by Aug. 30, 2015, the increased funding is important for retraining inspectors, improving IT capacity, providing technical assistance to small growers and processors, and developing partnerships with state and local agencies.

When FSMA was approved in 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that FDA would need an increase of more than $580 million to fund the expanded food safety activities. FDA has since revised that estimate to between $400 and $450 million.

Implementing FSMA will require even more funding in the FY 2016 budget and beyond, but Eskin said that allocating the majority of FDA’s overall increase to food safety is “a promising signal for the future that FSMA continues to be a priority.”

The bill also included a $3 million increase in budget authority for NARMS, which Laura Rogers, director of Pew’s antibiotic resistance project, said will mean that, “FDA can better evaluate the public health benefits of its new policy to withdraw antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals.”

NARMS was funded at $7.8 million for FY 2014. In September, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) urged the president to include $15 million in his FY 2016 budget request for the system.

Three Senators Have Questions for Interagency Antibiotics Task Force

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:02am

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter Tuesday to Secretaries Chuck Hagel, Tom Vilsack and Sylvia Burwell, co-chairs of the newly formed Interagency Task Force for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, to ask how this task force will address gaps in how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently addressing the public health threat posed by the overuse of antibiotics in food animals.

“While the FDA’s policies are a step in the right direction, we are concerned that FDA may lack the authority to ensure veterinarians adhere to the criteria for determining an appropriate preventive use laid out in its guidance documents, that the FDA does not have a clear mechanism for collecting the data necessary to evaluate whether its policies effectively reduce the public health threat, and that the administration has no clear metrics or benchmarks that will be used to determine success or a need for future action,” the senators wrote.

In September, the White House released a report on antibiotic resistance by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and issued an Executive Order establishing an interagency task force for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The governmental task force must submit an action plan to the president by February 2015 describing how to meet the administration’s National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria and address PCAST’s recommendations.

The senators’ letter listed 11 questions they have about how the task force plans to address issues in enforcement, data collection, and policy evaluation while developing the National Action Plan:

  1. In light of the disagreements among stakeholders and their competing interests, what tools are available to the administration to encourage compliance with FDA criteria for determining an appropriate preventive use of antibiotics?
  2. Does the administration need additional authorities to ensure compliance?
  3. How will the administration measure the rate of adoption of the Guidance #213 guidelines among veterinarians?
  4. When does the administration plan to finalize the VFD (Veterinary Feed Directives) rule?
  5. USDA surveys are voluntary and depend on the participation of producers. Are these surveys an effective means of collecting the valid on-farm antibiotic use data — across all of the major food-producing species in the U.S. — necessary to evaluating current FDA policies? If not, what agency and department will be tasked with obtaining these data?
  6. We understand that USDA does not currently have the necessary resources to conduct comprehensive surveys of on-farm antibiotic use practices and that a large-scale study can cost up to $1.5 million. In its fiscal year 2016 budget request, does the administration plan to request additional funds to perform a study of on-farm antibiotic use practices within the budget caps?
  7. What is the first step toward developing a new data collection mechanism (as directed by the National Strategy) that will be included in the Feb. 15, 2015 Action Plan?
  8. If the FDA’s guidance documents succeed in reducing the continuous low-dose use of antibiotics in food animal production, what changes will you expect to see (in sales data, in VFDs, or any other currently collected data point) and when will you expect to see these changes?
  9. What additional metrics and benchmarks for evaluating the FDA policies will be published as a part of the Action Plan?
  10. What agencies and departments will be responsible for running the evaluation?
  11. If FDA policies are unsuccessful, what next steps will the administration consider to continue addressing the misuse and over-use of antiotics in animal agriculture?

Senators Warren, Gillibrand and Feinstein also wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in July expressing their concerns about guidance documents #209 and #213 and the proposed rule on Veterinary Feed Directives and asking for more information about those efforts.

Recipe for Better Seafood Safety Opened to Public Comments

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 1:01am

Seafood safety, legal fishing, and proper labeling of fish might all benefit from presidential task force recommendations now open to public comments. Scheduled for publication on Dec. 18 in the Federal Register, the “Recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud” cover four general themes:

  • International: Combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and seafood fraud at the international level;
  • Enforcement: Strengthen enforcement and enhance enforcement tools to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud;
  • Partnerships: Create and expand partnerships with state and local governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations to identify and eliminate seafood fraud and the sale of IUU seafood in U.S. commerce, and,
  • Traceability: Create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce to prevent entry of illegal product into the supply chain and better inform retailers and consumers.

“One of the biggest global threats to the sustainable management of the world’s fisheries is illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing,” states the task force report. “IUU fishing occurs both within nations’ waters and on the high seas and undermines the biological and economic sustainability of fisheries both domestically and abroad. IUU fishing in other parts of the world can cause problems in places where there are strong rules managing fisheries, such as the United States.”

The task force report was filed Tuesday by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a unit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which, in turn, is a branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

President Obama established the task force in June at the global Our Ocean conference hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Federal agencies were directed to work together for six months to develop recommendations to combat seafood fraud and illegal fishing.

“While not necessarily related to IUU fishing, seafood fraud (whereby fish is mislabeled with respect to its species or country of origin, quantity, or quality) has the potential to undermine the economic viability of U.S. and global fisheries as well as the ability of consumers to make informed purchasing choices, “ the task force report continued.

“Seafood fraud can occur at any point along the seafood supply chain from harvest to market. It can be driven by diverse motives, from covering up IUU fishing to avoiding duties, to increasing a profit margin through species substitution or falsification of the country of origin. While it is difficult to know the extent of seafood fraud, the frequency of seafood fraud incidents has received increasing attention in peer-reviewed journals, government reports and private sector reports. Seafood fraud threatens consumer confidence, serving to further undermine the reputation and market competitiveness of law-abiding fishers and businesses in the seafood industry,” it states.

Seafood fraud is all too common. In February 2013, Oceana, a U.S.-based group working to improve oceans worldwide, reported that 33 percent of more than 1,200 fish samples purchased at retail and tested were mislabeled, according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines.

Fish fraud is typically practiced to fool consumers into paying more, not to necessarily put them at risk from a food safety perspective, although unsafe food can result from fraudulent practices. To help improve the situation, Oceana advocates for “full chain traceability” from “boat to plate.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Oceana said the presidential task force recommendations are “a real step forward in fighting illegal fishing and seafood fraud in the U.S. and around the world.” The group says the recommendations will help carry out the president’s “commitment to stop those crimes that provide profits to pirate fishermen, rip off consumers, and hinder ocean conservation.”

Beth Lowell, senior campaign director for Oceana, called the task force recommendations a “historic opportunity to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled.”

The organization is calling on Obama to implement the recommendations “swiftly and to their fullest extent.”

Comments on the task force recommendations must be received within 30 days of their publication in the Federal Register. Instructions on how to comment electronically or by mail are on the second page of this document.

Confusion Greets New EU Food-Labeling Rules

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:04am

New rules went into effect Dec. 13 throughout the European Union to help people avoid 14 allergens in food by requiring labels, providing information on food allergies and intolerance, and offering voluntary best practices on cross-contamination controls for pre-packed and loose food items.

The new rules impact restaurants, bakeries, delis and grocery stores, among others.

Officially known as the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, the rules were adopted in 2011 in order for the public to “receive clearer, more comprehensive and accurate information on food content, and help them make informed choices about what they eat,” according to the European Commission.

All provisions included in the rules became effective this past Saturday except for those relating to the mandatory nutritional labeling of processed food, which will apply on Dec. 13, 2016.

Some of the key changes to EU food-labeling rules include:

  • Improved legibility of information (minimum font size for mandatory information);
  • Clearer presentation of allergens (e.g., soy, nuts, gluten, lactose) for pre-packed foods (emphasis by font, style or background color) in the list of ingredients;
  • Mandatory allergen information for non-pre-packed food, including in restaurants and cafes;
  • Requirement of certain nutrition information for the majority of pre-packed processed foods;
  • Mandatory origin information for fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry;
  • Same labeling requirements for online, distance-selling or buying in a shop;
  • List of engineered nanomaterials in the ingredients;
  • Specific information on the vegetable origin of refined oils and fats;
  • Strengthened rules to prevent misleading practices;
  • Indication of substitute ingredient for “imitation” foods;
  • Clear indication of “formed meat” or “formed fish,” and,
  • Clear indication of defrosted products.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has been busy since 2011 devising guidance for the businesses which must comply with the new rules. FSA has posted resources about allergen information, providing allergen information for non-pre-packed foods, labeling of gluten-free foods, technical guidance on new allergen labeling and information rules to support SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises), and allergen management and labeling for pre-packed foods.

The EU is also working on a new database to make the rules easily accessible to food business operators and SMEs. The database is scheduled to be rolled out next year.

Meanwhile, some owners and operators of European food establishments are reportedly confused about how to implement the new rules, and it apparently hasn’t helped that some EU members, such as Italy and France, haven’t yet adopted their own guidelines about how to do it.

Some restauranteurs find the idea of listing the ingredients of all food items on their menus too difficult and believe that direct communication between diners and wait staff should be sufficient.

“We didn’t wait for Europe to be able to tell customers about allergens if they ask,” Jean Terlon, chef and owner of a restaurant near Paris. “There’s no need for a directive.”

However, he also noted that more restaurants these days rely on pre-packaged industrial food items and may not be aware of all the ingredients in the menus they offer.

Regarding country-of-origin labeling requirements in the new rules, some EU food outlets have already complied because of action taken earlier by individual member countries.

“We were required to list much of that information after the mad cow scare of some 15 years ago,” said the owner of a Madrid butcher shop, pointing to meat and sausage labels listing where each animal had been born, fed and butchered.

Spending Bill Bans ‘Chinese Chicken’ From Federal Meal Programs

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:03am

A provision included in the $1.1-trillion spending bill Congress passed last week and which is now headed to the president’s desk prevents poultry processed in China from being used in the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program (Section 736 of Division A).

Four Chinese poultry-processing plants have been approved to export cooked chicken to the U.S. as long as the chicken was raised and slaughtered in the U.S., Canada or Chile.

The ban on including such products in federal meal programs was introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and cosponsored by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Both are members of the House Appropriations Committee and added the amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 agriculture appropriations bill last spring.

Congressional leaders included the provision in the omnibus spending bill that funds the federal government through Sept. 30, 2015, the end of FY 2015.

“Banning Chinese chicken from school meals is a common-sense step to protect our kids,” DeLauro said in a statement. “China’s food safety record is atrocious, yet last year USDA deemed poultry processed in China to be as safe as poultry processed here. Children are among the most susceptible to foodborne illness. We cannot take unnecessary risks with their health.”

Nancy Huehnergarth told Food Safety News that she and Bettina Siegel, co-sponsors of a petition to keep poultry processed in China off U.S. plates, were relieved to see the provision carry over into the omnibus bill.

“We’re really happy,” Huehnergarth said. “It’s exactly what we were hoping for.”

In garnering nearly 329,000 signatures, the petition showed strong grassroots support for the ban. The team plans to declare victory once the president signs the bill, which he has indicated he plans to do.

China, on the other hand, is not so pleased because of provisions in the U.S. bill that “discriminate against Chinese companies, violate the principles of fair trade and send the wrong signal,” International Business Times reported. In addition to the poultry ban, the bill also restricts purchase of IT systems produced in China.

“China urges U.S. to take effective measures to correct the erroneous practice and create a favorable environment for the healthy development of Sino-US economic and trade relations,” stated Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Sun Jiwen.

All Defendants Plead Not Guilty in Halal Case

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:02am

The federal courts often move too slowly for some, but that was not the case Monday in the U.S. District Court for Northern Iowa.

in just 18 minutes, officers of the Cedar Rapids, IA-based Midamar Corporation and the related Islamic Services of America were arraigned on federal felony charges, pleaded not guilty to all charges, adopted the court setting a trial date of Feb. 17, 2015, and were freed under minimal conditions.

Both defendants, sons of the previously charged William B. Aossey Jr., also corrected their names for the court. Jalel Aossey said his full name is Jalel Farris Aossey and William Aossey said his correct name is Yahya Nasser Aossey.

Any federal defendant freed until trial agrees not to violate any federal, state, or local law while on release and to submit a DNA sample. Defendants also agree to keep the court advised of their current address, appear in court as necessary, and surrender for sentencing if it comes to that.

The Aossey brothers were released with only two additional conditions. They must give probation officers 48 hours advance notice before they embark on international travel, and they agreed not to associate with anyone convicted of a felony.

Other than that, both are free without bond, as is their father.

Also during the speedy arraignment proceedings on Monday, the chief federal magistrate judge for Northern Iowa signed the court’s standard 16-page trial scheduling order for each defendant. It sets a Jan. 21, 2015, status hearing for a trial that might start on Feb. 17, 2015.

Linda R. Reade, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for Northern Iowa, will preside over the trial. The order notes the court has several trials scheduled for the same period and has not determined the order in which they will be tried. This is also a standard court procedure as cases often settle immediately before trial and judges use such scheduling practices to ensure they are not left with nothing to do.

The rest of the standard order deals with discovery, jury selection, and trial witnesses.

The five scheduling orders signed Monday, including one for ISA Inc., which is another name for Islamic Services of America, mean those trials might occur before 73-year-old William B. Aossey Jr. faces a jury on March 9, 2015.

The senior Aossey was previously arraigned last October. His federal trial was postponed from an original trial date of Dec. 29, 2014, after the federal magistrate declared the cases “complex” and said he needed additional time for preparation.

While the charges against the Aosseys and their companies are not strictly food-safety related, they do involve mislabeling and violations of statutes that are usually seen as essential to food-safety enforcement.

Miramar, Islamic Services and the Aosseys are charged with making false statements on export documents and money laundering, which the government says has to do with shipments of Halal beef to Southeast Asia. Halal meats are prepared according to specific standards of the Muslim faith, including those for slaughter.

The individual charges against each of the defendants are listed below:

Jalel Farris Aossey
Pending Counts

18:1343 and 2 WIRE FRAUD w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(a)(2)(A) MONEY LAUNDERING – POSTAL, INTERSTATE WIRE, RADIO, ETC. w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(h) MONEY LAUNDERING – CONSPIRACY w/Forfeiture Allegation

Yahya Nasser Aossey
Pending Counts

18:1343 and 2 WIRE FRAUD w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(a)(2)(A) MONEY LAUNDERING – POSTAL, INTERSTATE WIRE, RADIO, ETC. w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(h) MONEY LAUNDERING – CONSPIRACY w/Forfeiture Allegation

Midamar Corp.
Pending Counts

18:1343 and 2 WIRE FRAUD w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(a)(2)(A) MONEY LAUNDERING – POSTAL, INTERSTATE WIRE, RADIO, ETC. w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(h) MONEY LAUNDERING – CONSPIRACY w/Forfeiture Allegation

Islamic Services of America
Pending Counts

18:1343 and 2 WIRE FRAUD w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(a)(2)(A) MONEY LAUNDERING – POSTAL, INTERSTATE WIRE, RADIO, ETC. w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(h) MONEY LAUNDERING – CONSPIRACY w/Forfeiture Allegation

ISA Inc.
Pending Counts

18:1343 and 2 WIRE FRAUD w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(a)(2)(A) MONEY LAUNDERING – POSTAL, INTERSTATE WIRE, RADIO, ETC. w/Forfeiture Allegation
18:1956(h) MONEY LAUNDERING – CONSPIRACY w/Forfeiture Allegation

Whole-Genome Technology Solving More Outbreak Investigations

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:01am

A common disclaimer supplied by public health officials while in the midst of a foodborne illness outbreak investigation goes something like this: “We’re doing our best to find the food source of the outbreak, but it’s important to remember that the majority of outbreaks are never traced back to a source.”

In other words, most outbreaks go unsolved because it’s just too difficult to pinpoint a food source given the constraints of technology and resources. While that may still be the case, more public health agencies are beginning to adopt technology that will help close the gap between the number of solved and unsolved outbreaks.

That technology is whole-genome sequencing (WGS), a method of identifying organisms such as bacteria and other pathogens by analyzing their entire DNA sequence. By comparison, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), the decades-old industry-standard epidemiological technology, looks at less than 1 percent of a pathogen’s genome.

The superior accuracy of WGS allows for much greater certainty when trying to solve relatively small outbreaks, or, even better, outbreaks that have already come and gone.

In recent months, three high-profile foodborne illness outbreaks — which included at least three deaths — have been solved retroactively, thanks to WGS.

In August 2014, the technology was credited with determining the food source of an outbreak that killed two people and hospitalized another three.

Routine testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes on a sample of bean sprouts from Wholesome Soy Products Inc.. Through WGS, that sample was connected back to five samples from sickened individuals in Illinois and Michigan, two of whom had died from their illness.

Until WGS technology came on the scene, such outbreaks would have likely gone undetected, said Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., professor of food science at Cornell University.

With WGS, health investigators are able to identify the exact organism causing illnesses down to its complete DNA sequence. PFGE, by comparison, allows for more uncertainty because it can’t identify the organism with nearly as much precision.

Wiedmann uses an analogy of a dog-bite investigation when illustrating the precision of WGS compared to other technologies.

“It’s like if three people were separately bitten by a German Shepherd, and they decided, ‘OK, it’s probably the same dog that bit each person’ — that’s like using PFGE,” he said. “But with whole-genome sequencing, it would be like getting blood samples from the victims and analyzing the DNA to see if they all match the same dog.”

Also in August 2014, Oasis Brands Inc., recalled several cheese and dairy products due to Listeria contamination after routine FDA testing found contamination. In that outbreak, WGS retroactively connected one death and four illnesses to the products in Georgia, New York, Tennessee and Texas.

WGS also connected six Salmonella illnesses to nut butter produced by nSpired Natural Foods Inc. from between January and May 2014.

The truth is that, over time, food processors will know that if a pathogen is found in their facility, the genome will be sequenced and checked against a database to look for connected illnesses, Wiedmann said.

Ultimately, he said, that knowledge will be a good thing for both food producers and consumers.

“It’s more important than ever that producers have stringent sampling plans in place to make sure organisms are there and taking care of them,” Wiedmann said. “Many of them are already doing this. We’re starting to see processors improve their sampling game and preventing more outbreaks.”

Flat Creek Farm Recalls Cheeses for Potential Salmonella Contamination

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 11:06am

Flat Creek Farm & Dairy of Swainsboro, GA, has recalled three lots of cheese because of potential Salmonella contamination.

The recalled products have lot codes 140802XAZ (Aztec Cheddar), 140702XAZ (Low Country Gouda) and 140725XGO (Aztec Cheddar). The lot codes can be found on the front of the packages.

According to company records, as of Nov. 25, 2014, all of the purchasers have been notified and all but 1.5 pounds of the cheese has been recovered.

Two of the batches of raw milk cheese (lot codes 140702XAZ and 140725XGO) have been tested by an independent lab. The results were negative for contamination, but they are being voluntarily recalled and destroyed by Flat Creek.

Aztec Cheddar and Low Country Gouda was distributed in certain parts of Georgia via Flat Creek delivery and in one online order, which have all been notified.

The product is packed in clear plastic and ranges in sizes from half-pound to whole wheels. Consumers who have purchased this product are asked to return the product to the place of purchase.

The recall was the result of a routine sampling program conducted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, which revealed that the finished products were contaminated. The company has identified the source of the problem and has eliminated it from future batches.

All of the raw milk cheese has been destroyed. Flat Creek Dairy is no longer producing raw milk cheese and has begun gently pasteurizing its artisanal cheeses.

In December 2013 and January 2014, Flat Creek recalled blue and cheddar cheeses that may have been contaminated with Salmonella.

Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Long-term complications can include severe arthritis.